Honeywell already has a family of wireless digital thermostats. But its most recent product, called Lyric, may remind some people of a newer thermostat company that's been getting attention: Nest.

Honeywell's new Lyric smart thermostat is a circular, sleek product that looks similar to the popular Nest device. But the new product isn't an attempt to copy Nest. Honeywell would argue, as it did in court, that Nest actually copied its own round design unveiled decades ago.

Legal scuffles aside, the device is the first product in Honeywell’s coming line of connected home products, which will also fall under the Lyric umbrella.

“It’s a new era,” Tony Uttley, general manager and VP of Honeywell Home Comfort & Energy Systems, said of the Lyric.

It is indeed a new era. Honeywell is still one of the biggest players in the residential thermostat market, but it has been challenged by the popularity of more innovative products in recent years, especially the Nest Learning Thermostat. Honeywell has spent the last eighteen months developing Lyric.

For all the talk about thermostat sales in big-box stores, the majority of the devices are still sold through dealers when a furnace or air handler is replaced. The popularity of Nest has invigorated the retail market and closed the gap somewhat between retail and dealer sales.

However, the dealer market is still responsible for more than half of all sales in the U.S., according to Tom Kerber, director of research at Parks Associates. He said that in the premium tier of the dealer market, smart thermostats make up about 10 percent to 20 percent of the market, so there is still significant space for penetration in that sector, and also in the mid-tier market. Nest is not a major player in the dealer market, according to Parks Associates' research. 

Given its price tag of nearly $300, Lyric fits into a premium-tier product category and is designed for a busy family. It uses the geolocation services tied to a smartphone to know when users are home and away. Along with the "geofence" feature, customers can set as many shortcuts as they want. Settings don’t have to be just "home" or "away," but could include a "party" setting to slightly cool the house before friends fill the space for a cocktail or birthday party, or an "in-law" setting to keep your seemingly cold-blooded mother-in-law happy during her visit.

The thermostat also fine-tunes its setting based on both indoor and outdoor temperature and humidity. Users may say they want it to feel like 73 degrees, but they mean 73 degrees with no humidity. Honeywell has found that many adjustments that are made when users override the set points on their thermostat are due to the fact that they are unhappy with the humidity level, rather than the temperature, of their home. This feature seeks to correct that, but can also be turned off.

Thermostat makers have to be careful about how much savings are promised, since every household has different settings. Honeywell gives a range of dollar savings based on region, from $26 to $220.

For Honeywell’s vast dealer network, the Lyric is the answer to the Nest for dealers that have customers with busy family lives who also want the latest gadget. It is available to dealers starting now and will be available at Lowe’s for $279 starting on August 1. Honeywell’s various Wi-Fi thermostats range from $299 for voice control to $119 for the basic product. The Lyric can also be set up to send service alerts, such as when a filter needs to be changed. If the customer chooses, those alerts can go directly to the contractor.

The dealer market is extremely fragmented, and most have relied on service contracts to deepen relationships with customers. “Anything that continues that relationship is a good tool for the dealer,” Kerber said.  

Although the product was developed, in part, to arm Honeywell dealers with a product that rivaled Nest, homeowners can also install it themselves. All of Honeywell’s Wi-Fi thermostats are demand-response-capable, and Lyric will be another device vying for position in the bring-your-own-thermostat peak reduction programs run by utilities.

The Lyric app is available in the App Store and Google Play, but will also be MFi-compatible and available on Apple’s new HomeKit. “HomeKit will allow us to provide a simple and easy experience for our customers, with the ability to securely pair and control devices throughout the house including integration with Siri,” the company said in an e-mail.

Honeywell did not specify which of its products would next get the Lyric treatment, but it will likely be its home security system, since security and monitoring continues to be the most appealing piece of the connected home, according to consumer research. As for the timeline for the next product on the Lyric platform, “it will be soon,” said Uttley.  

Tags: connected home, honeywell, lyric, smart home, smart thermostat, wi-fi thermostat